The hitherto unaddressed wounds of Kashmiri Pandits finds a gut- wrenching depiction in Vivek Agnihotri’s latest film, The Kashmir Files. Kashmir - this singular world in itself encapsulates so many contrasting visuals and feelings, from breathtaking beauty to the aching loss of innocent lives. Brutality, massacre, elusive peace and human rights violations continue to threaten its pristine beauty. It’s impossible to divorce Kashmir from politics, and it's equally difficult to encapsulate the years and centuries of complex Kashmiri history into a feature length film.
With his latest directorial venture, Agnihotri focuses on the plight of displaced Kashmiri Pandits and the events that led to lakhs of them being rendered homeless overnight.
This isn’t an exodus but genocide, says IAS Brahma Dutt (Mithun Chakraborty). It’s a sentence we hear multiple times in the film. Pushkar Nath Pandit (Anupam Kher) echoes the sentiment when he tries to tell his grandson Krishna (Darshan Kumar) about what they had to endure as a community and family.
The film is based on true events and testimonies by first generation victims and those who lived to tell the horrifying tale of torture and unspeakable violence unleashed on their loved ones. That it wasn’t just some stray incidents of being threatened that made the families leave Kashmir, but the terror that sadly had the tacit support of the then government.
The non-linear narrative builds on these horrors slowly. Uday Singh Mohite’s cinematography juxtaposes frames of extraordinary beauty of Kashmir to the maniacal urgency of the horrendous violence. The subdued colour palette mirrors the reign of terror as chants of 'Raliv, tsalive, chaliv' (convert, die or leave) fill the air. Some of the scenes are gut-wrenching, but what makes it even more disturbing is that these are based on actual events.
The Kashmir Files opens with the killing of Satish Tickoo, a young businessman gunned down by JKLF terrorists. Farooq Ahmed Dar alias Bitta Karate’s killing spree, sparing neither women nor children, is also woven in. Terrorists came for BK Ganjoo, who hid in a rice barrel. After his neighbour ratted him out he was shot dead and the rice, laced with his blood, was fed to his wife. There's also a scene where jihadis lined up 24 Kashmiri Hindus and shot them, not even sparing the life of a little boy.
While the first half deals with all that transpired in Kashmir in the 1990s, that led to the Pandit genocide, the second half focuses on Krishna, as his mind becomes a symbolic conflict zone after his grandfather and his friends give him a view of Kashmir that's completely different from what his university professor wants him to believe.
A film on Kashmir will always be a political one, and the battle of the two opposing ideologies is played out. Darshan is a confused young man and Krishna is unaware of his own history or that of his family. He must discover the truth by himself . While reducing a whole university to a single ideology becomes a little too simplistic, it does draw the battle lines clearly. In the highly polarised world that we live in everything is coloured as per one's political leanings. Agnihotri cleverly pitches the two against each other . The 'azaadi' chants in the AMU university (which brings to mind a certain JNU incident) in one scene are linked to a grainy video of Benazir Bhutto asking Kashmiri’s to take up arms for their azaadi. Faiz’s 'Hum Dekhenge' to characters modelled on Yasin Malik and Arundhati Roy all find a place here . Pushkarnath’s friends, Brahma Dutt IAS, DGP Hari Narain (Puneet Issar) , journalist Vishnu Ram (Atul Shrivasta) and Dr. Mahesh Kumar (Prakash Belawadi) are sad reminders of how the local
administration, the police and even the media became helpless and mute spectators as nothing was done to save the Pandits. Pallavi Joshi’s Professor Menon is positioned as the “left liberal “ separatist sympathiser lobby. More nuance in writing would have added depth as the binaries drawn try to oversimplify a rather complex issue.
The Kashmir Files boasts of some great performances, evocative background score and an empathetic portrayal of the torture and violence that Kashmiri Pandits had to suffer.
Anupam Kher gives it his all as Pushkar Nath Pandit, a man who spent his entire life dreaming of going back to his beloved homeland. Chinmay Mandlekar, Bhasha Sumbli, Pallavi Joshi and Darshan Kumar, in particular, are all brilliant.
Scenes of a shikara floating peacefully over the Dal Lake, even as the Valley drowns in cries and hopelessness, is a poignant reminder of how political machinations have orphaned its own people. Over the years we have seen many hues of Kashmir- from the pristine beauty and love, to the killings of innocents, human rights violations, of missing men and unclaimed bodies. The trauma and betrayal that Kashmiri Pandits suffered deserves to be seen and understood. Irrespective of how deeply polarised the world today is, where everything is viewed from the lens of one ideology or the other, the Kashmiri Pandit community deserves justice, closure and healing . The Kashmir Files makes a compelling case for it.
Our rating: 3.5 Quints out of 5